BOOK REVIEW: Van Gogh's Ear: The True Story - Bernadette Murphy

The Blurb (from Goodreads): In December 1888, Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear. It is the most famous story about any artist in history. But what really happened on that dark winter night?

In Van Gogh's Ear, Bernadette Murphy reveals the truth. She takes us on an extraordinary journey from major museums to forgotten archives, vividly reconstructing Van Gogh's world. We meet police inspectors and café patrons, prostitutes and madams, his beloved brother Theo and fellow painter Paul Gauguin.

Why did Van Gogh commit such a brutal act? Who was the mysterious 'Rachel' to whom he presented his macabre gift? Did he really remove his entire ear? Murphy answers these important questions with her groundbreaking discoveries, offering a stunning portrait of an artist edging towards madness in his pursuit of excellence.

I always knew that Vincent Van Gogh cut off his own ear. And I’ve always wanted to know why. I have a few books about the artist, including a lovely illustrated edition of his letters from Provence, and have read many articles about him, but none ever really satisfied my curiosity. So when I saw this biography of Van Gogh’s ear, I bought it at once.

My Thoughts:

The author, Bernadette Murphy, spent seven years trying to discover the truth of what happened that fateful night in Arles. Her own dogged detective work becomes part of the story, so that we follow her research step-by-step. Like any good investigator, she does not believe all that is told to her, but interrogates all the known facts and uncovers many unknown ones. The result is truly fascinating and very readable. This is not a heavy academic biography, but rather a warm, intimate and very personal story of one woman’s curious search to understand how a man could cut off his own ear. Having read the book, I feel as if I know exactly what happened and perhaps understand the why … a great place for anyone interested in Vincent Van Gogh to start.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Love memoirs and creative non-fiction? Try my book review of The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession by Susan Orlean here:

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Kate Forsyth
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